Perform an Internet search for “America’s Team” and the first thing you’ll see is the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys are that rare NFL team that fills stadiums with half their fans at away games, similar to the Pittsburgh Steelers. And like the Steelers—along with the Patriots and Broncos—the Cowboys have eight Super Bowl appearances. Dallas has won five Super Bowl titles, second to Pittsburgh’s six wins. However, Dallas has not done what the Steelers and the aforementioned teams have accomplished in the 2000—winning a Super Bowl.
Coming into the 2016 season, the Cowboys have exactly 128 wins and 128 losses for the regular season since 2000. At the same time, the storied franchise is 2 – 5 in the postseason. The modern team has been an extreme divergence from the 1970s and 1990s teams that were perennial playoff contenders and Super Bowl winners. A carousel of quarterbacks, a running back roulette and a myriad of off-field drama marred the Dallas brand during the first part of the decade.
However, not all was bad. There was a nucleus of players who strived to live up to Dallas’ values of integrity, respect, teamwork, commitment and excellence. The following list will spotlight the very best Cowboy players since 2000. Likewise, it will bring attention to several players during that same time who missed their chance at being a productive member of the most valuable sports franchise in the world.
15 BEST: Dez Bryant (WR)
Wide receiver Dez Bryant has a chance to be the most productive receiver in Dallas Cowboy history. Not to slight former Cowboy receiver Michael Irvin or current tight end Jason Witten, but Bryant has kept pace in the age of the wide receiver. Bryant is already on the verge of catching the most touchdowns in team history. He needs four to five more seasons of 1,000 yards or more to surpass either Irvin or Witten, depending on the latter’s playing plans. The two-time Pro Bowler and one-time All Pro is entrenched as the team’s number one option at wide receiver given his average of 1,312 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns per season when healthy. Only erratic quarterback play and health will keep Bryant from all-time Cowboy greatness.
14 WORST: Greg Hardy (DE)
What the hell were Jerry Jones and the Cowboy front office thinking in 2015? Greg Hardy was signed for one year at $11.3 million, even after his arrest and allegations that he beat up and threatened to kill his girlfriend in 2014. Already deactivated during the 2014 season with the Carolina Panthers, Hardy was suspended for ten games to start the 2015 season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. His suspension was reduced to four games after the charges were dropped due to his girlfriend’s trial no-show. Hardy had his record expunged but the pictures of his girlfriend’s injuries were released, prompting more controversy. Dallas released Hardy citing his attitude, his lack of punctuality for team meetings and practices as well as his criticism of the team’s coaching staff. Hardy was arrested in Dallas for cocaine possession in 2016.
13 BEST: Flozell Adams (LT)
In 1998, left tackle Flozell Adams got his Dallas career off to a rocky start and underwhelmed the coaching staff. Of course replacing Mark Tuinei was no easy task. Moreover, playing alongside a few of—if not one of—the best offensive lineman ever can both help and hurt the way you are viewed in both the short- and long-term. Nevertheless, Adams and left guard Larry Allen anchored the left side of the line until Allen’s departure in 2005. That same year Adams tore his ACL. However, he roared back in 2006 and beyond, facilitating Dallas’ finish in the top-10 of points scored two out of four years before his own departure in 2010. As a result, Adams was rewarded with three straight Pro Bowl selections, making a total of five times he would make the trip to Hawaii.
12 WORST: David LaFleur (TE)
Had it not been for his first round pick (22nd overall) in the 1997 draft, the Cowboys wanting a Jay Novacek reincarnation and a Troy Aikman blessing over future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez in the same draft, David LaFuer might have had a chance. However the Louisiana State product’s back didn’t do him any favors, nor did a Dallas team on the decline. LaFleur did not live up to his top-pick billing as he would struggle catching passes and became more of a blocker. LaFleur would catch seven touchdowns in the 1999 season and appeared to be developing. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t be able to repeat the feat the following season as his back issues flared. LaFleur was released in 2001. However, tight end help was on the way for the Cowboys.
11 BEST: Roy Williams (DB)
Safety Roy Williams was fortunate to have been under the tutelage of and playing alongside safety Darren Woodson at the start of his career in 2002. Woodson, a three-time Super Bowl champion and three-time All Pro helped Williams make his first All Pro selection and Pro Bowl in his second year. Williams earned Pro Bowl honors for four more years, making it five straight as he took over where Woodson left off after his departure in 2003. Unfortunately, Williams’ prime years would be unkind as a change in Cowboy leadership, defensive schemes and a forearm fracture would end his season in 2008. He was released in 2009 and subsequently signed by the Cincinnati Bengals. Williams ended his Cowboy career with 19 interceptions and 506 tackles.
10 WORST: Quincy Carter (QB)
Timing wasn’t kind to quarterback Quincy Carter. He was taken as a second round pick (53rd overall) in the 2001 draft at the command of team owner Jerry Jones. Carter was expected to be a franchise savior—replacing Troy Aikman. His rookie season was injury-laden, resulting in three different starters for the Cowboys–one being Ryan Leaf. In his second season, he lost the starting job to rookie Chad Hutchinson. In 2003, Bill Parcels took the coaching helm and guided Carter and the Cowboys to a 10 – 6 record and to the playoffs. Carter underwhelmed in his last game as a Cowboy, which would be a playoff loss to the Carolina Panthers. He was released the following season after violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Consequently, his release had historical implications for the franchise (see number five).
9 BEST: DeMarcus Ware (LB)
Linebacker DeMarcus Ware was well on his way to having a bust in the Hall of Fame before he signed with the Denver Broncos in 2014. From 2005 to 2013, the former first round pick (11th overall) amassed 117 sacks for Dallas. He led the league with 20 in 2008 and ultimately placed himself in the top-20 all-time sack leaders. Additionally, he made 574 combined tackles and forced 32 fumbles for the Cowboys. Furthermore, he was selected for seven straight Pro Bowls and named All Pro four times. Unfortunately the Cowboys could not parlay Ware’s efforts into deep postseason runs as the team won only one playoff game in four chances during his tenure. Ware would eventually taste Super Bowl victory in 2015 with the Denver Broncos.
8 WORST: Terrell Owens (WR)
There’s no doubt that Terrell Owens is one of the best wide receivers of all-time. However, the baggage that came with Owens oftentimes extinguished his greatness on the field. Mired in a contract dispute, “T.O.” was suspended and released by the Philadelphia Eagles after the 2005 season for his disparaging comments regarding Eagle ownership, management and quarterback Donavan McNabb. Owens signed a three-year contract with Dallas in 2006 and went on to post over 1,100-receiving yards and 13 touchdowns per season. Yet his Cowboy tenure did not start without controversy as he overdosed on prescribed painkillers. Moreover, he was the same T.O. that plagued the San Francisco 49ers and Eagles, launching into locker room tirades, criticizing coaching and almost coming to blows with fellow players. The Cowboys released Owens in 2009.
7 BEST: Terence Newman (DB)
Dallas raised several eyebrows when it selected Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman with the fifth overall pick in the 2003 NFL draft. Not many expected a player drafted at 25-years of age to defy longevity in addition to being the team’s best defensive back for nine seasons. But that is exactly what Newman did for the Cowboys from 2003 to 2011. During that time he collected 32 interceptions, 122 pass deflections—a franchise record—and 542 tackles while being selected to two Pro Bowls. Newman was—and still is—a stingy defender noted by his penchant for denying touchdowns not to mention deflecting receptions intended for the players he covers. Newman has since played for the Cincinnati Bengals and his current team, the Minnesota Vikings.
6 WORST: Adam “Pacman” Jones (DB)
If there was ever a poster-boy for second, third to sixth chances, current Cincinatti Bengal cornerback Adam Jones would fill up a billboard. As with all players who experience trouble and suspensions the year prior, Dallas acquired the oft-troubled Jones in a trade with the Tennessee Titans in 2008. Needless to say, Jones couldn’t stay out of trouble getting into an altercation with his bodyguard at a hotel. As a result, Jones was suspended by the league for his violation of the league’s personal conduct policy. Cowboy owner Jerry Jones lobbied for a shortened suspension and got it for the rehabbing cornerback. However, Jones continued to be sidelined and played sparingly for the season’s remainder. The Cowboys released Jones in 2009 after learning he was embroiled in even more off-field troubles.
5 BEST: Tony Romo (QB)
It’s hard to believe that Tony Romo—who leads the Cowboy franchise in the majority of all-time quarterback stats—went undrafted and was signed as a rookie free agent in 2003. What’s even more remarkable is that he was on the verge of being cut had it not been for Quincy Carter’s previously mentioned release. In 2006, Tony Romo assumed the quarterback reigns from Drew Bledsoe—a guy who knows a thing or two about backups taking jobs. Since then he’s logged close to 35,000 passing yards and is on the verge of being top-20 all time in passing touchdowns. Moreover, his current passer rating is top-10 all-time. Unfortunately, those numbers have not translated into championships for the four-time Pro Bowler. Similarly, Mother Nature and Father Time have caught up with Romo.
4 WORST: Dwayne Goodrich (DB)
Former cornerback Dwayne Goodrich will be the first to admit that he threw away an opportunity to make an impact for the Cowboys. Dallas took Goodrich in the second round (49th overall) of the 2000 NFL draft, hoping to shore up the team’s secondary. Injuries would keep Goodrich from taking the field for much of his rookie season and all of his second year. Goodrich served as a reserve player for all of 2002. In early 2003, Goodrich was arrested for vehicular manslaughter as he hit and killed two people while injuring another on the roadside and then fled the scene. He was sentenced for more than 12 years in prison and released after eight. Goodrich speaks from time to time to athletes at the high school, collegiate and professional levels regarding his life decisions.
3 BEST: Larry Allen (LG)
There’s no refuting Allen’s place in history as one of the best—if not the best—offensive lineman of all-time. Where does one start with the Sonoma State alumni? Allen’s injection into to the offensive line was the catalyst for Dallas’ dominance in the mid to late 1990s. Leaving the overt brashness to other notable teammates, Allen put his nose to the grindstone and propelled running back Emmitt Smith to even greater heights. Allen helped Smith set career highs in rushing yards and touchdowns, not to mention position Smith for eclipsing Walter Payton’s all-time rushing yardage mark. Likewise, quarterback Troy Aikman benefitted from Allen’s presence as he was sacked under 20 times for three straight seasons. Allen’s Cowboy career concluded with 10 Pro Bowls, six All Pro selections and a Super Bowl ring.
2 WORST: Joseph Randle (RB)
Running behind one of the best offensive lines in football, running back Joseph Randle had a great opportunity to keep the starting running back position for the Cowboys in 2015. Strike one was Randle’s strange arrest for shoplifting cologne and men’s underwear from a Dillard’s department store in late 2014. Strike two was an alleged domestic dispute that led to Randle’s arrest at a hotel for possession of marijuana in early 2015. Although the case and charges were dropped, the NFL still handed Randle a four-game suspension that prompted the Cowboys to demote him during the 2015 season. However, the Cowboys released Randle before the suspension took place due to erratic behavior and other personal issues. Unfortunately, Randle has still not righted the ship as he’s been arrested several more times since his release.
1 BEST: Jason Witten (TE)
Tight end Jason Witten might not have the flash like Rob Gronkowski. Nor does he compare to stat hogs Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates. But the fourteen-year veteran holds his own against those guys and others given his receiving skills, field vision and blocking. Witten is currently first all-time in receptions and games started, second in receiving yards and he’s on the verge of being second for receiving touchdowns for the Dallas franchise. And oh yeah, he’s got 10 Pro Bowl nods, two All Pro selections and he was named the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2012. Undoubtedly, Witten would love to trade one or more of those awards for a Super Bowl ring. Even so, he’s been the best Dallas Cowboys player since 2000.